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5 innovations that could change health care forever

The last several decades have seen so many advancements in medical technology that doctors from 40 years ago would barely recognize a modern hospital. At today's rate of innovation, it may only take 10 or 15 years for the same type of paradigm shift to happen to us. Here are five new devices and concepts that are leading the way.

Healthcare Technology

Game-changing health care technology innovations

Between 3D body modeling, cybernetic implants and lab-grown blood vessels, health care technology is sounding more and more like science fiction. Check out these five glimpses into our medical future.

1. Drug-free migraine relief

Doctors have long associated chronic headaches with the sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG), a nerve bundle located behind the nose. A new treatment recently introduced in Europe tackles the problem directly, with an almond-sized implant that makes direct electric contact with the nerves in the SPG. At the onset of migraine pain, patients just activates the implant with a handheld remote controller and the pain signals are blocked at their source.

This implant, known as the ATI Neurostimulation System, has passed the testing stage and has entered surgical use in Germany and Belgium. As an added bonus, nearly half of the patients in clinical trials reported an overall decrease in the frequency of migraine attacks once they began using the device.

2. Augmented nutrition

Awareness about the role of food in overall wellness continues to grow, and it doesn't stop at shopping for organic vegetables. Nutrition and dietetics careers are on the rise, and high-tech innovations are popping up to help everyday people better understand what they're putting into their bodies.

A Canadian company called TellSpec is working to produce a pocket-sized scanner that can analyze the chemical composition of foods and send a comprehensive nutritional profile to your phone, tablet or computer. The spectroscopic scanner delivers a calorie count, an ingredient list, an allergen alert and a percentage breakdown of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, among other information.

TellSpec hasn't yet rolled out their scanner for purchase by the public, but a recent infusion of seed capital should help the device get to mass production soon enough.

3. Google Glass in the OR

In June 2013, Dr. Rafael Grossmann broke ground for health tech wearables by being the first surgeon to use a Google Glass eyeset in the operating room. The Glass-recorded procedure was broadcast in real time, from Dr. Grossman's point of view, to a group of surgery students in the hospital's associated medical school.

The implications of hands-free recording devices like Glass go beyond education, as well, particularly with the reported 70 percent of the U.S. population who live more than 60 minutes from the nearest trauma center. Doctors and surgeons at remote sites could use networked recorders and receivers to teleconference with experienced trauma personnel and receive real-time advice and guidance.

4. 3D medical imaging

Professionals with careers in diagnostic imaging understand the power of technology in modern medicine, perhaps better than most. A few years ago, researchers at Iowa State University developed software that brings even more power and versatility to the medical imaging field.

The software, called BodyViz, allows doctors, medical educators and MRI technicians to transform the data gathered in an MRI or CT scan into a browseable, scalable and customizable 3D map of the patient's body. Users can "surf" the interior spaces of subjects' bodies using a hand-held controller, switching on and off the display of different types of tissues with a pop-up menu interface.

As if that weren't enough, engineers have recently modified BodyViz to work with stereoscopic 3D glasses, allowing even greater realism for students and surgeons.

5. Made-to-order human tissue

We've probably all heard that 3D printers are poised to revolutionize manufacturing with their abilities to create nearly any shape imaginable, but working biological tissue? Really?

According to bioprinting company Organovo, who printed working blood vessels in 2008 and have moved on to more complex tissues in the years since, the possibility may not be too far off. Tech hardware firm TTP recently removed one of the biggest roadblocks toward this goal by releasing a new type of print head that allows companies to use multiple materials in a single project.

The service is currently marketed to researchers and educators, but Organovo and companies like them are working actively toward a future where hospitals can create living, working, therapeutically viable tissues from scratch. Other types of 3D-printed implants, such as titanium and surgical plastic replacements for skull and jaw bones, are already in use.

High-tech health careers

Recent studies show that all these advancements in medical technology mean more than just increased resources for patients and providers. The health care field contains more than half of the occupations projected to grow the fastest between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and staying up to date on emerging technology can only improve your job prospects in the coming years.

Dozens of health care innovations enter the development, testing and active use stages every day. Nurses, radiologic technologists, diagnostic imaging technicians and other front-line health tech pros will want to keep their fingers on the pulse of emerging technology and an eye out for the next game-changing innovation.

Sources:

"Neurostimulation: Gingivial implant helps reduce cluster headache," Surgical Tribune, March 5, 2014, http://www.surgical-tribune.com/articles/news/europe/8765_neurostimulation_gingival_implant_helps_reduce_cluster_headache.html

TellSpec, http://tellspec.com/

"Is Google Glass The Future of Teletrauma?," HIT Consultant, November 11, 2013, http://hitconsultant.net/2013/11/11/is-google-glass-the-future-of-teletrauma/

BodyViz, https://www.bodyviz.com/

"TTP Invents Multi-Material Print Head," 3D Printer World, September 6, 2013, Brooke Kaelin, http://www.surgical-tribune.com/articles/news/europe/8765_neurostimulation_gingival_implant_helps_reduce_cluster_headache.html

Organovo, http://www.organovo.com/

Fastest growing occupations, Employment Projections, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_103.htm

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